When you read those two words, what comes to mind?
Words like: tough, decisive, driven, fearless, disciplined?
What can leaders learn from the SEALS?
Under incredible conditions, Navy SEALS prove their worth by getting the job done. When I meet a SEAL, I am intrigued because I know this is someone who is proven. Recently, when I had the opportunity to interview Brian “Iron Ed” Hiner, about his new book, First, Fast, Fearless: How to Lead Like a Navy SEAL, I knew I would walk away with many lessons I could apply in business and in life.
“When leadership is right, you really don’t see it any more.” -Ed Hiner
HIRING LESSONS FROM THE SEALS
Becoming a NAVY SEAL means you have overcome all odds. What can corporate leaders learn from the selection process in terms of hiring and recruiting the very best team possible?
We have identified four major traits that we look for in a perspective SEAL candidate: physical courage, moral courage, problem solving, and what I call “teamability.” Physical courage is obvious, but moral courage does not rank far behind because we are an organization that relies heavily on trust and for our people to do the right thing for our country.
We also want SEALs to be problem solvers who thrive in what we call VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), an environment often referred to as the “fog of war.” In our Gallop polling, we discovered that chess players are almost four times more likely than non-chess players to successfully make it through Navy SEAL training; chess players are problem solvers, and the board is VUCA writ small.
The last trait that I call “teamability” is a person’s ability to lead and be led, who can move from team to team seamlessly.
The takeaway of this is that hiring and recruiting needs be very deliberate. Organizations that understand the critical traits they need in their employees, and actively recruit for these traits, will be more successful down the road. Obviously all organizations look for skills and experience, but oftentimes they overlook the fundamental traits they actually need to be the elite organization that they wish to be.
PUT MISSION BEFORE SELF
Could you cover teamability a little more and what that means? What methods do you employ to get people to put “mission before me.”
Teamability requires that leaders and team members put mission and team before their own personal interests. When people know that leaders are selflessly making decisions for the team to succeed, and protecting their people along the way, it sets the conditions for teamability. From the beginning of SEALs training we set conditions to reinforce this concept.
In some ways it’s like we turn the pyramid upside down and take care of the broader team mission first and work our way down to the individual. For example, after we finish a mission, we take care of the teams’ common gear first. Then we all split off to our smaller teams and take care of that gear and issues until we get to the individual. This applies to everyone on the team, rank doesn’t matter; the motto is mission before me. This applies everywhere in the SEAL Teams. During staff meetings SEAL Team issues get addressed first, then the smaller Task Unit issues and so forth. It’s a practiced ritual that develops teamability and mission focus. As for the leaders of team, the rank of importance is the Mission, the men and then me. When it’s time to shower and eat, leaders eat last.
When organizations depend on teamwork it’s critical for them to reward the teams that exhibit this trait. In the SEAL Teams your performance review is heavily skewed toward your teamability; we don’t just give it lip service. We reward the traits that we want, to be the elite organization that we need to be. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of just rewarding individual performance at the expense of critical traits that you need for overall mission success.
We are an organization of “Alpha males” and high performers, and it’s easy for individuals in any organization with high performers to fall in love with their own ideas and abilities. Elite teams perform at their best when their leaders are humble. It’s an outward indicator that the leader is willing not to fall in love with his or her own ideas but is instead willing to find the best direction for the mission and the team. When leaders are humble and act selflessly it builds trust, and trust is the invisible thread that holds all elite teams together. When this invisible thread is broken and leaders act in their own self-interest, and don’t engage the skills and talents of the team, results will suffer.
We all have fears, and those fears can contribute to shaping our personalities: fear of failure, not being intelligent, shame, etc. Humility is the antidote to those fears. Elite leaders are not worried about being right; they are focused on the cause-and-effect relationship to get results and accomplish the mission.
I’m not saying that people should completely get rid of their egos so that they dance naked in the halls; I’m saying divorce your ego, yet stay friends. Don’t let your ego run your life. As the saying goes, “Humble people don’t think less of themselves, they think of themselves less.”
What qualities do you first notice when someone is leading with humility and acting as a servant leader?